Feisty New Yorker calls Naples home, her show is top rated, the peo­ple's straight shooter

RSWLiving - - Cover Page - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT


Judge Ju­dith Sheindlin is also one of ours, a na­tive New Yorker choos­ing South­west Florida to make a home. She and her hus­band have swapped a Gulf condo for a Naples house val­ued at nearly $9 mil­lion, or about two weeks of pay for her 52-day (per year) work sched­ule, ac­cord­ing to pub­lic records. Sheindlin is the pre­sid­ing Small Claims judge on the Emmy Award-win­ning Judge Judy, which broad­casts daily in South­west Florida on FOX 4 (WFTX). Flick on the tele­vi­sion, and she’s likely tear­ing into a bad land­lord or a weasel­ing boyfriend. Her find­ings are real.

Judge Judy, which cel­e­brated 20 years last Septem­ber, has been the No. 1 show in day­time tele­vi­sion since the 1998-99 sea­son and the No. 1 pro­gram in first-run syn­di­ca­tion for the last six sea­sons. She was 54 when

Judge Judy pre­miered af­ter Sheindlin’s time as a Fam­ily Court judge in New York. The show in Amer­ica av­er­ages more than 10 mil­lion daily view­ers. It eas­ily out­dis­tances oth­ers such as Dr. Phil and Fam­ily Feud, for in­stance. Ad­di­tion­ally, Judge Judy is li­censed in some 125 in­ter­na­tional ter­ri­to­ries, her agent Gary Rosen says.

Amaz­ingly, her rat­ings and brand show no eas­ing. Sheindlin, FOX 4’s general man­ager Char­lie Hen­rich says of the me­dia com­pany’s top-rated show, “is a driv­ing force in our in­dus­try. In this world today, we want some­one to shoot straight, some­one who ac­tu­ally tells how it is. She’s sharp as a whip and doesn’t give an inch. FOX 4 is very proud to part­ner [with CBS tele­vi­sion] to be her home­town sta­tion.”

Sheindlin’s charm is her zero tol­er­ance for non­sense. The show uses real lit­i­gants and a court au­di­ence paid to mur­mur and re­act to the pro­ceed­ings. Her one-liner “Judyisms” cut into fool­ish­ness with dis­mis­sive “good­bye” or “don’t-be-a-wise-guy” re­join­ders to the dis­agree­able or ar­gu­men­ta­tive. Some lit­i­gants try speak­ing out, pulling the

tough-guy act, but that in­evitably goes south; most view­ers have a Judge Judy-like char­ac­ter in their life. Her large staff searches Small Claims fil­ings. The goal is lit­i­gants’ know­ing one an­other, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, which is the best drama. For­mer lovers or room­mates seem to peo­ple the show. In ex­change for her judg­ment, they gain/ lose dam­ages and their 15 min­utes of fame.

Sheindlin is bal­anced by her equally tough bailiff, Petri Hawkins Byrd, who served years ago in her New York court­room. He is funny in his dis­mis­sive way, seem­ingly dis­in­ter­ested, yet fully pro­tec­tive of his boss―the pair make us smile, as if jus­tice has been truly served. The show is in rare space, as was Oprah Win­frey or the orig­i­na­tor of the court­room genre, Judge Joseph Wap­ner, says Greg Stet­son, pro­gram di­rec­tor for WINK-TV, a CBS af­fil­i­ate in Fort My­ers. “Per­son­al­ity seems to drive things,” he says. “It’s like NCIS (drama se­ries)―Mark Har­mon is cast and all of a sud­den, boom, you have a hit. [ Judge Judy] is a phe­nom­e­non, no ques­tion.”

Judge Judy is pitched as a New York show, but is filmed in Los An­ge­les. Sheindlin re­port­edly earns $47 mil­lion a year for her work, enough for her trade­mark lace col­lars―and sev­eral homes, ac­cord­ing to re­ports. Her ap­peal is im­mense, how­ever, with fan clubs and celebrity gos­sip car­pet­ing so­cial me­dia and the In­ter­net. Cape Co­ral res­i­dent John Ma­honey is a huge fan, for in­stance, watch­ing Judge Judy daily. Al­though he doesn’t sched­ule his days around the show, he records episodes to scour af­ter work, he says. “I like watch­ing the dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters that ap­pear on the show,” Ma­honey says. “There is never a dull mo­ment,” adding that fa­vorite cases are about claims of prop­erty dam­age. “It’s fun to watch her putting them in their place and yell at them like I would yell at them. … She re­minds me of my grandma, who also grew up in New York City. They have so many things in com­mon.”

Af­ter nearly 25 years in New York Fam­ily Court, Sheindlin re­tired from the bench in 1996 to start the syn­di­cated pro­gram that bears her name. She be­gan her ca­reer as a prose­cu­tor in Fam­ily Court in 1972. In 1982, then-New York City Mayor Ed­ward Koch ap­pointed her to the bench. In 1986, Sheindlin was ap­pointed the su­per­vis­ing judge in Man­hat­tan Fam­ily Court. She heard more than 20,000 cases dur­ing her ca­reer, Rosen says. She was tapped to teach all newly elected and ap­pointed Fam­ily Court judges for al­most a decade. In Fam­ily Court, she earned a rep­u­ta­tion as one of New York’s most ef­fec­tive judges. Sheindlin is cred­ited with pi­o­neer­ing an open court pol­icy, al­low­ing the pub­lic and the me­dia to view the Fam­ily Court process. The CBS tele­vi­sion show 60 Min­utes in­tro­duced her to the na­tion in 1993.

“SHE’S SHARP AS A WHIP AND DOESN’T GIVE AN INCH.” —Char­lie Hen­rich, FOX 4 general

man­ager on Judge Judy Sheindlin

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